Delegates: Spectators or participants?


Scott Sala of Slant Point, one of the bloggers invited by the RNC to cover the Republican National Convention, caught my earlier entry about security and the situation that the media (including invited bloggers) may be afforded more liberty than the delegates, in terms of what we are permitted to bring with us into the convention hall. He wrote a sympathetic reply:

While I sympathize, especially since delagates are perhaps the most-enthusiastic Republicans in the country, and they merely want to be confortable and have fun and record a few memories for posterity, I understand security concerns as well. I guess I think of it as a sports event, with very much the same policies people are subject to every weekend around the country. Yeah, it sucks, but in many ways that's the world we live in - and it was this way long before 9/11.

But some of this delegate's concerns are due to his discovery that bloggers will be allowed to bring in the items listed above. This of course is due to the status of media being given to select bloggers.

What he says makes perfect sense if you start from the assumption that "delegate" is just a fancy way of saying "spectator," "fan," or "cheerleader." Scott's reference to delegates as "perhaps the most-enthusiastic Republicans in the country" suggests that he makes that assumption. Most people who watch these conventions on TV have never attended a precinct caucus, or a county, district or state convention, and probably haven't given much thought to how the delegates got there, or why they are there. It would be reasonable to assume that the only people who matter are the speakers and the media there to cover them.

The celebration will be fun, as will being there in person to hear the President and other leading lights of the Republican Party, but I'm sure people at home will be better able to see and hear the speeches. I am not going to New York, and spending money on airfare, hotel, and restaurants just to be a prop, a warm body in the stands, or a member of the cheering section. I am going for the same reason I attended the county, district, and state conventions -- to participate in setting the course of the Republican Party for the next four years. The delegates are there to vote on four items -- a presidential nominee, a vice presidential nominee, a platform, and the party rules for the next four years, including the rules governing the 2008 presidential nominating process. The first two items are foregone conclusions this year. The second two don't attract much attention, but they matter greatly.

I am going up a few days early so that I can attend the sessions of the rules and platform committee. Each state has two representatives (one male, one female) on each of these committees. I won't be a member of either committee, but I will be there to follow the debate. The platform committee will probably begin with some sort of draft, prepared in consultation with the Bush/Cheney campaign, and the committee members will have the opportunity to propose amendments, ultimately voting on a final version to recommend to the Convention for adoption. The rules committee will begin with the rules approved in 2000, plus recommendations for rules changes coming from the Standing Committee on Rules of the Republican National Committee.

The Convention as a whole will probably only get an up or down vote on the rules and the platform, but if 25% of a committee are in disagreement with the report approved by the majority, they can submit a "minority report" -- an amendment or substitute -- which would come before the Convention for a vote. Under the 2000 rules, there's no provision for bringing an amendment to the rules or platform committee reports, but it would be possible to suspend the rules in order to bring such an amendment to the floor. Suspending the rules requires support from a majority of the members of six state delegations just to put the question of suspending the rules before the convention, plus the support of a majority of delegates.

In all likelihood, the platform will be broadly acceptable, but if the platform is significantly out of accord with the sentiments of grass-roots Republicans, I'll be prepared to raise an objection and I hope my fellow delegates are likewise ready to exercise their rights and responsibilities.

As to the rules, I have two concerns. The first is that we don't make it too difficult to bring a rules or platform amendment before the Convention as a whole. In any convention or meeting, rules should achieve a proper balance, expeditiously enacting the will of the majority without trampling the rights of the minority. If a minority opinion isn't allowed to be heard, how will anyone know that it isn't really the opinion of the majority? From my reading of the current rules, I think the balance is tilted too far toward getting quickly through the business of the convention, and preventing anything from happening that isn't predetermined.

The second concern is about the 2008 presidential nominating process. I don't think the current system works well, as I've said previously. This convention is the only opportunity to look at the issue, and it's best to do it now, before we know who will be running in 2008 and have to worry about how a rules change might benefit one candidate over another.

Sadly, I get the sense that the folks running the show may also regard delegates more as spectators than as participants. That would probably explain why we won't be allowed to bring signs in with us (another restriction for the sake of security). The homemade signs you will see on TV have already been painted and will be supplied to the delegates. (Here's a New York Sun article about this.) You won't see any signs making fun of the two Johns and the Democrats, or any signs that seek to deflate the pompous network anchors. You won't see any signs affirming the Republican commitment to the sanctity of innocent human life, supporting our Second Amendment rights, or upholding the true definition of marriage.

It's ironic -- the Convention organizers complain that the news networks won't give as much coverage to the Convention as they used to, meanwhile they try to squeeze every bit of spontaneity and unpredictability out of the event. Wouldn't it be great to show the world that the Republican party is the truly democratic party, driven by the grass-roots? That would be worth covering, and it would send a great message.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 4, 2004 12:40 AM.

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